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Why eCommerce is eventually going to eat up all brick and mortar businesses in India

I recently bought a mattress for our guest bedroom. My first offline purchase in many months. A mattress is something that you need to touch, feel bounce on before making a purchase. And hence, we went to a nearby mattress place and after checking out a number of options, settled on one.
We could have easily walked out and purchased it online – but my conscience wouldn’t let me. So we made an order.
The guy asked me to pay half the amount as advance — in cash. I did.
What followed was a series of back and forth – calling the guy, checking with the delivery schedules. Canceling plans to wait at home and the delivery not showing up.
What was promised to be delivered on Monday, was delivered after a lot of following up 4 days later.
Worse was that the guy refused to give me a legitimate bill. He made excuses. He finally told me that his CA was away and when we will be back, he will issue me a tax invoice. I paid the entire amount in cash. After having such a tough time just getting the goods delivered, it would be foolish to follow up on a bill.
That’s where I think eCommerce really shines for me.

Not having to deal with another human for purchasing something

You look up things online. The marketplace makes prices competitive – removing the entire point of haggling. You click a button and the goods are delivered in a timely manner with all legalities in place. Without ever speaking to anyone.
Hell, you can even start your own store, use Shopify to setup your shop – and start selling your own goods. All without speaking to anyone.
Technology keeps people honest. It keeps the contract binding.
I think that is the most important aspect for me and many people like me. And that is why I think eCommerce and every single experienced eCommerce development company will eat up all the brick and mortar businesses in India. It is not simply because eCommerce is painless (which it is) – but brick and mortar businesses are, as a friend put it, hitting their foot on the axe!
This blog was originally posted on my LinkedIn Account.

How to get your child’s passport in India in 3 days flat!

UPDATE (09-Aug-2016)
It has been a year and a half since I wrote this post and since I got my child’s passport and as you can imagine, a lot of things have changed. A few lucky breaks that happened to us may not apply any more.
I think after reading the blog, you should head down and read the latest comments as those would be more helpful and would paint a more realistic picture of what to expect in today’s date.


I recently applied for the passport of my 10 month old on the Thursday (1st Jan 2015) and had it in my hand on Saturday (3rd of Jan 2015). If you are wondering how this was done, here is my story.
If you are expecting any hacks or cool tips, I am sorry to disappoint, but it was a boring, straight-forward process.
Disclaimer:
My wife and I both have valid Indian passports and are living in the same city from which we got our original passports issued. So your mileage may vary depending on where you are staying and whether both of you have passports. You may require additional documents if you do not fall under this category.
Other happy notes:

  1. Wife’s name on passport before marriage
    The name on my wife’s passport is the one before marriage and on the birth certificate of my child, the name is from after marriage (change in surname). We were afraid that this would be an issue and we would first have to change her passport and then apply for my child’s passport. Fortunately, this did not matter. The name on my child’s passport under the mother’s name column was entered from the birth certificate and they did not trouble us on this front.
  2. Spouse Name Endorsement
    If you go through the FAQ section of the Passport Office and if you even call their customer support (I did), they will insist that you first endorse your names on each other’s passports. Otherwise you cannot apply for your child’s passport. (On the last page of your passport, there is a line which says “Spouse Name”. You are supposed to do this after your marriage. Both of us basically felt this was quite stupid and we did not bother doing this.) 

    I was quite sure that they would send us back due to this. However, fortunately, they did not bother and did not even bring it up. If you haven’t gotten your names endorsed, don’t worry. Didn’t matter for us.
  3. Walk In Interviews
    When you fill up the form online for the passport and get an interview date – you’ll generally get something after 30-40 days. I applied on 20th Dec and got a date for 30th Jan. However, if it is for your child, it does not matter. You can simply walk-in to the Passport Seva Kendra (PSK) the next day (you need to wait for 1 day after filling in the form). The timings for walk-ins are between 9am – 10:30am in Pune. Though this could be different for the PSK you visit. So please check.

What I took:

  1. My passport (original)
  2. My wife’s passport (original)
  3. My child’s birth certificate (original)
  4. Photocopy of my passport (first and last page) – attested by me
  5. Photocopy of my wife’s passport (first and last page) – attested by me
  6. Photocopy of my child’s birth certificate – attested by me
  7. Print out of the Online Application Form Receipt – 1 copy
  8. Annexure H (http://passportindia.gov.in/AppOnlineProject/pdf/AnnexureH.pdf)
  9. A recent passport photograph of my child (3.5 cm x 4.5 cm) because she is less than 4 years old.

What I paid:

  1. Rs. 1,000/- online for the normal passport application process (don’t bother with tatkaal)
  2. Rs. 35/- in cash at the PSK for the SMS registration facility (if you want SMS updates for your passport process)

The Process:

  1. Make sure you have the birth certificate for your child. In our case, this was the only document they scrutinized and I don’t think it may be possible to apply for a passport without it.
  2. Create a username and password on the Indian Passport Site: http://passportindia.gov.in/
  3. Apply for a new passport and fill up the form the best you can.
  4. Pay the required fees (in my case, it was Rs. 1,000.00)
  5. Wait for a day.
  6. Look at the documents you require to carry with you. They have quite a handy document advisor here:
    http://passportindia.gov.in/AppOnlineProject/docAdvisor/attachmentAdvisorInp
  7. Go to the PSK at 9am. There wasn’t much of a rush for us and we moved along quickly.
    We actually entered at 9:30am and were out by 10:20am

What happens at the PSK:

  1. Tell the guard outside that you are there for your child – so this is a walk-in. He will let you in. Yes. Your child needs to be with you. Both parents can accompany the child.
  2. Go to the Token counter and hand over all the documents from #4 to #8 listed above.
  3. The guy will make a file for you and give you a token print out.
  4. You then will be asked to go to Counter A.
    In Pune, there are approximately 30 counters for the A Counter and our number came up within 30 seconds of us getting the token. (It will be shown on a screen).
  5. Meet with a friendly guy (probably on TCS roll) who will do the data entry for your documents and scan all your original documents along with the notary approved copies and translations and the passport photo of your child.
  6. He will also take your child’s thumb print via ink pad.
  7. He will also verify your details on your application by looking at the original documents and make the necessary changes.
  8. Once everything is done, you have to go to a waiting room and wait for your token to show up for Counter B.
  9. Counters B and C are Government counters and people won’t be as friendly as from Counter A.
  10. This takes about 5 minutes. Your number will be shown on a screen. There are about 10 counters for Counter B.
  11. The junior officer will verify the documents and sign at a place in your file.
  12. You then have to move to counter C (about 6 counters for C). Wait for your token to show on the screen. Takes again about 5 – 10 minutes.
  13. The senior officer or Granting officer takes the final call on your file and will choose to grant your passport.
  14. He will keep your file with him.
  15. You return your token at a window on your way out.
    In Pune, they compulsorily make you fill the feedback form behind the token.
  16. If your passport is granted, you will probably write happy things.
  17. Exit the building.

Next Steps (via SMS & email updates):

  • Thu: Passport sent for printing
  • Thu: Passport printed
  • Fri: Passport dispatched via Speed Post
  • Sat: Passport arrives at home.

I hope this post was helpful. Please leave your comments below of experiences that you’ve had with the passport office.
If you have any particular question, please add it in the comments and I’ll try my best to address it as well.
Update 01: 29-Oct-2015
As per a comment from Madhuri (see below this post), if you submit only one parent’s passport, your child’s application gets put in for police verification and is not as quick as it can be. Hence, it is recommended to submit passports of both parents (if available) to expedite the process and skip police verification.

CFLs vs LEDs vs Incandescent Bulbs

If you have noticed, LED bulbs are all the rage suddenly. They are all over the place – the Philip bulb ads on TV, the Syska LED ads on radio and everywhere else. They have been around for quite sometime – but suddenly have burst into the scene.

So, with incandescent bulbs blowing up around my house, I decided to do a full review and bought a bunch of lights to see which ones stack up.

Here are the contestants:

All types of lights tested

My Setup

So, in my house, we have all yellow lights – which are mostly bulbs and few CFLS. Hence, my test involves LED bulbs and CFLs in the “Warm White” colour – which gives off a nice yellowish, intimate light. But before we go ahead, I present to you a little information researched on various types of bulbs.

This will help you understand why CFLs are more efficient than bulbs and why LEDs are more efficient than CFLs.

It all starts with Lumen

Lumen is a unit to measure the amount of light. If you are interested in the textbook definition, please see here.

In India, we tend to estimate the amount of light given by the wattage of a particular bulb. Hence, most of us probably have a fair bit of an idea on the light given out by 40W bulbs (incandescent) – useful for lamps, etc., 60W bulbs for regular, home lighting and 100W bulbs for outdoor / brighter lighting.

“Watts” or (W) is the unit of electricity consumed.

Incandescent bulbs give us light by passing electricity through a filament which heats up and emits light. In fact, 95% of the energy in these bulbs is lost to heat and only 5% is what produces light (ref). Hence, incandescent bulbs produce only 16 lumens / watt.

CFLs in the way they are built are more efficient and can give us between 50-70 lumens / watt (atleast 3 times more than incandescent bulbs)

LED bulbs on the other hand, can output upto 100 lumens / watt – which make them one of the most efficient sources of lighting. I drew up some numbers to compare these which are in the table below.

How do these compare?

[table id=1 /]

Quality of Light

Artificial lighting sources like bulbs, tubes, etc. are also rated on their ability to reproduce colour. The standard light against which these sources are compared is sunlight and companies like Phillips claim 90 – 95% colour reproduction for even their base models. Because most of us (especially yours truly) cannot make out this difference, I have decided to skip this and instead focus on how the light “looks” to me.

As I have already mentioned, all light fixtures in my house are lamps or wall mounts of some sort. We do not have naked tube lights or bulbs anywhere.

As such, I found the LED bulbs to be quite directional. They are known to not offer the omni-directional light that incandescent bulbs offer – but it was quite apparent to me without making much effort. The light was quite ‘harsh’ for our needs and we decided to not use the bulbs for our lamps.

As a matter of fact, I found the Tornado CFLs to give the best light distribution.

40W Incandescent bulb vs 8W CFL vs 5 LED

40W Incandescent bulb vs 8W CFL vs 5 LED (click for larger image)

As you can see, the incandescent bulb gives the best light distribution – but if you had to compare the CFL vs LED, the CFL (Tornado in this case), creates a much more distributed environment and is not as harsh as the LED.

Which LED bulb should I buy?

There are a couple of bulbs available in the market. I bought and tried the Phillips LED ones and the Alva LED which is an Indian company – and it costs half of what Phillips cost. In my opinion, LED bulbs are quite overpriced at the moment.

However, if you MUST get LEDs, I would recommend Phillips over Alva as I was quite disappointed with the Alva offering.

I bought candle lights from them and this is the light that I got from them:

Comparison of the Alva 4W LED to 40W Incandescent Bulb

The light that the Alva bulbs were casting was quite disappointing – even for use as spotlights (which I did not intend to use them as) – they look quite dirty.

In Conclusion

For me, I have decided to replace all the incandescent lights in my house with CFLs at the moment. There are some fixtures which the CFL form factors do not support (especially the small fixtures with the E14 sockets) – which I am going to continue using bulbs on.

LED bulbs – though exciting – don’t offer the kind of light that I am looking for. Plus the super expensive price point puts me off.

What do you guys think? Would love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

Further Reading / Links

  1. Different types of sockets. Don’t get the wrong type of bulb for your fixture.
  2. Phillips LED bulbs on Amazon
  3. Cheaper LED Bulbs on Snapdeal
  4. Myths vs Facts on LED and CFL lighting (especially about mercury content in CFL bulbs)

Why owning a second car doesn’t really make much sense …

The title of my post says it all… Before we start, there are some assumptions to this statement.

The assumptions are as follows:

  1. Your are living in a Tier 1 / Tier 2 city in India which has decent Uber / Radio Cab connectivity (Have heard good things about Meru as well See Update 2 below).
  2. You use your car as much as an average person does – say about an hour or so a day.

Let’s pull out our calculators for this one…

Step 1: Determining the cost of ownership of a car in India

  1. Some used or new car (average make): Rs. 5,30,000.00 (A). This, again, depends on what kind of car you are looking for.
  2. Lifetime of a car: 7 years (pretty decent estimate)
  3. Fuel expenses (considering diesel without inflation): Rs. 2,000 per month (on the lower side)

    Cost over 7 years: Rs. 1,68,000.00 (B)
  4. Car Auto Coverage Insurance (considering Rs. 10k avg per year): Rs. 70,000.00 (C)
  5. Car Maintenance / Servicing: (Rs. 10k avg per year): Rs. 70,000.00 (D)
  6. Change of tyres (twice in 7 years @ Rs. 3,500 per tyre): Rs. 28,000.00 (E)

Let’s add all this up: Rs. 8,66,000.00 (T = A+B+C+D+E)

Cost of owning this car / day over 7 years: T / (365 x 7) = Rs. 338.94 per day.

Please note that these are fairly conservative estimates. The cost here will be somewhat higher due to:

  1. Rise in the cost of fuel over the years.
  2. Not considering the amount you may need to pay for parking in your society (going rate in Pune is 1.5L – 2.5L per spot)
  3. Not considering the loan that you probably need to take to buy a car @ 15% pa. (you will end up paying an additional 2L interest over a 7 year loan period).
  4. You may not want to get an average car but a more expensive one. (Add the difference in costs accordingly.)

(Adding these expenses will take up the cost of your car to about: 8.66L + 1.5L parking + 42K fuel inflation @ Rs. 500 extra pm + 2L for loan = Rs. 12.58L or Rs. 492 per day over 7 years)

What this means is that everyday your car is sitting in your garage, you are wasting Rs. 340.00 – Rs. 492.00 per day.

I am going to consider the case in which you need a second car for your spouse to go to work.

(My office is around 8 km from home and hence my fuel costs are Rs. 2k per month approximately. If it were further, fuel costs would go up accordingly)

Also, most folks I know – use their second car even more sparingly than this particular use case.

Step 2: Let us consider the alternative: Uber / Ola Cabs / Meru / Other Radio Cab Services (See Update 2)



This is what I would pay one way to travel from my house to work.

Uber - Pune 2014-10-08 00-02-17


So: Rs. 120 one way. Rs. 240 both ways per day.

Assuming that I don’t need to use my car to travel on the weekends (Sat, Sun) my expense turns out to be:

  1. Per week: Rs. 240 x 5 = Rs. 1,200.00 (W)
  2. Over 7 years: W x 52 weeks x 7 = Rs. 4,36,800.00
  3. Cost of travel per day (over these 7 years): Rs. 170 per day

    i.e. I will be saving 340 – 170 = Rs. 170 per day just by not buying a car and using Uber instead.

In addition to this, the benefits of Uber / Similar services (over driving your own car are):

  1. You don’t have to drive a car.
  2. You get a nice, air conditioned, chauffeur driven mini-sedan (UberX has Sedans).
  3. No worries of filling up fuel, getting your car insured every year, PUC, serviced and maintenance.
  4. No more driving around for hours – looking for parking.
  5. No worries about someone hitting / denting / scratching your car while driving / parking.
  6. You can use your travel time to catch up on that extra level of Candy Crush instead of cursing those taxi and rickshaw drivers.
  7. With a little pre-planning, you can use your other single car between yourself and your spouse in most occasions. Saving on money and the environment by carpooling.
  8. The extremely satisfying feeling that you get when you press a virtual button on your phone and a car magically appears in front of your door cannot be beat. The magic of technology!
  9. Let someone else worry about getting you through that rush hour traffic – while you sit comfortably behind playing Candy Crush.
  10. Did I mention you don’t have to drive a car anymore?

Isn’t this all worth it? Not only do you save 170 bucks a day (Rs. 62,000.00 per year), you pay only when you travel. So if your travel needs are more infrequent – say for example, you need a second car only 2 – 3 days a week, your costs will come down even further – to about 80 – 100 bucks a day (or 60-70% cheaper than owning a car).

Step 3: So what is the hold up?

Sigh… There always is a catch isn’t it?

In this case, there are a couple of them:

  1. Uber isn’t as widely available as I would like it to be – and this will still be in only Tier 1 / 2 cities for sometime.

    Most of the times, it takes me between 10-15 mins on an average to get a cab (after pressing a button on my phone).

    Depending on your address in Pune, it could take you longer (20-25m). So a little pre-planning is required. However for the popular areas (camp / Viman Nagar / Kalyani Nagar / Koregaon Park / Aundh / Station / Airport / etc. – cabs arrive in between 5 – 8 mins which is not bad at all).
  2. You would be dependent on public transport / rickshaws – incase Uber cars are not available tomorrow.

    So you cannot depend on them a 100% yet – but with a little pre-planning, you can get around it.

In the end, I believe it is a lifestyle choice – something that we are very interested in trying. The economies make sense and the convenience makes so much more sense. If only the service grows and has enough drivers – then we’ll be talking.

Step 4: Get your first ride free – on me – worth upto Rs. 300.00

Just because you have read this post so far, your first Uber ride is on me. The coupon for the Rs. 300 off is: ubersaurabhj

Download the App on your phone (search Uber on the App Store, Google Play Store or Windows Phone Store), sign up (most debit cards and all credit cards work), hit Menu > Promotion and enter this coupon.

Update 01 – 08-Oct-2014

Gaurav pointed me to two interesting resources related to my blog post:

  1. An interesting discussion on hacker news.
  2. A blog written by Sam Altman (in SF) with an excel sheet having the same thoughts as me.

Update 02 – 08-Oct-2014

I have added Meru as a viable option in my posts assuming their rates are at par with Uber. But I was quite surprised to see them substantially expensive. In Pune for example, their minimum base fare is 200 bucks compared to UberX’s 90 bucks. Also their price per km is 20 vs UberX’s 12. That won’t hold up to my earlier calculations.

Disclaimer:

This post may seem that it has been sponsored by Uber – but that isn’t the case. The level of service and convenience that these guys offer is giving us the first glimpses of “Transport as a service” – which we haven’t seen so far. A service which allows you to summon a ride at the push of a button gives you the ability to dream about getting rid of that vehicle you rarely use anyways and use your hard earned money smarter.


We are actually very serious about selling our second car and converting to Uber – so if you see any flaw in my plans / calculations, please leave me a comment so that I can rethink! Thanks 🙂

What happens if Flipkart Fails?

(Image courtesy Samrat Mazumdar)
Pritika and I were sitting at Marz O Rin today evening – biting into the delicious vegetable sandwiches and cheese burgers and discussing how a package that I ordered Monday morning from Flipkart, was sitting inside my car by Tuesday afternoon. Even though we have had a weird relationship, I am impressed – even today by the speed at which they deliver stuff – and the ease with which you can shop with them.(Our latest purchase needed to be returned due to a missing accessory. More on that experience in a later post)
The discussion moved onto how Flipkart was doing financially – and it is no surprise that they are literally burning through money.
They have raised a total of $540M till date and have about 5,000 employees. They are still to post a profit (breaking even will happen after a long time).
Online retail is such a business and even Amazon took 6-7 years before they posted a profit.
We started wondering what would happen if Flipkart shuts down…
Can it even happen? Will their investors let it?
I mean, things like this don’t happen immediately. Things slowly stop – categories start disappearing and eventually the news is announced.
Flipkart shutting down will actually be a huge blow to e-commerce in India. In Tier 1 and 2 cities at least, Flipkart is synonymous with online shopping.
They have actually brought online commerce to the masses in India and made people feel safer while typing in their credit card numbers in a website.
When Flipkart was raising its earlier rounds, every Tom, Dick, Harry (and their uncles) were starting e-commerce sites right, left and center.
Most of them have gone under.
It is really heartening to see every other e-commerce site – even the unknown seller on eBay – to come up to Flipkart’s level.
I have bought stuff from a dozen, different e-commerce websites – even sites with bad designs and broken code – but they always delivered.
I, for one, hope that Flipkart hasn’t bitten more than it can chew – which can happen with a company growing this fast.
It would be really sad to see them go as they are probably the closest we have to seeing a major win in the Indian Startup space.
What I think
If Flipkart shuts down, it will be a slight inconvenience to many people – but I feel that Flipkart has already done all the hard work in making us cynical Indians – open to online shopping. With Flipkart gone, people will just turn to other folks in the market – the eBays and Amazons and Infibeams for their online shopping fixes.
I feel, it will be a bigger loss to the Indian startup scene than the Indian eCommerce scene.
What do you think will happen if Flipkart shuts down?
Will it affect future e-commerce in India? Have they done all the hard work (in converting customers) for Amazon to swoop in and pitch their flag?
External Links:

  1. An interesting Forbes India article from a year ago.
  2. Sachin Bansal’s interesting reply to the article.
  3. Flipkart Staff Exodus
  4. The Amazon of India is — Amazon (added on 25-Oct-2014)

Cancellation Policies and Charges of Airlines in India

This post attempts to compare the change and cancellation policies of airlines in India. The airlines compared were: Air India, Spicejet, Kingfisher, Jet Airways, Indigo and Go Air.



I recently was to travel to Delhi and had to cancel my tickets two days ago due to some personal reasons and was shocked to see the latest cancellation charges.

They are literally daylight robbery!

My itinerary was as follows:

Pune to Delhi via Spicejet (2 people)

Rs. 9,374 (booked via GoIbibo)

Delhi to Pune via Indian Airlines (2 people)

Rs. 10,126 (booked via the Air India website)

I ended up paying the following (insane) cancellation charges:

  1. Spicejet: Rs. 950 x 2 = Rs. 1,900
  2. GoIbibo (I booked the Spicejet ticket with them): Rs. 250 x 2 (their cancellation charges) + Rs. 100 (credit card transaction charges) = Rs. 600
  3. Indian Airlines: Rs. 1,575 x 2 = Rs. 3,150 (the complete base fare)

A couple of years ago, we had cancelled some Spicejet tickets and they were Rs. 750 per ticket.

What really irks me is the way these guys are doing business. I think the bulk of their revenue comes from people cancelling their tickets.

  1. They haven’t flown me!
  2. They have 100% sold the ticket to someone else at a super high rate (PNQ – DEL is a very popular route) and made a profit on it. (Last minute tickets are super expensive)
  3. They have made Rs. 5,650 from me without providing any service.

If this is not day-light robbery, I don’t know what is!

As a result, I did some research and have put up a sheet of airline cancellation charges of all airlines in India – which you should take a look at before making your bookings in case there is a possibility of you changing your plans. This is a google spreadsheet and editable by all – so feel free to make changes incase you find new charges (these change regularly).



Table created on: 26th Aug, 2012 09:31 hours.

These rates might not be the same on the day you are viewing this. For (a possibly updated) excel sheet, see this:

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AuIgUE5wEdcRdHhZdFhTTVVfQ2g1cTZDZnU4UEliWmc&pli=1#gid=0

The following airlines had information on their website which I could easily come across (I have over 13 years of web experience and I did web design and usability for a living)

  1. Spicejet
  2. GoAir
  3. Jet Airways
  4. Jet Konnect
  5. Air India (had to use a google in:site search)
  6. Air India Express

Following airlines had to be called to learn about the rates:

  1. Kingfisher (no surprises here)
  2. KingfisheR Red
  3. Indigo

Important Tip

Also, what you must definitely do is – NEVER book from these travel websites. Because cancellation is a 50% more expensive affair with these guys having their additional charges. What you should do is use http://ixigo.com which does a fare comparison on the direct airline website and book the tickets from there.

In my experience, 95% of the times, the lowest fares are on the Airline website anyways.

Transaction failed on IRCTC website?

If you are in India and have tried booking your train tickets on the Indian Railway website through IRCTC, there is a good chance that your transaction has failed while booking the tickets.

I generally use netbanking (ICICI) as it is more affordable (Rs. 10 per transaction) as compared to using credit cards (3.5% per transaction) and have had my transaction fail recently.

Which means that they deducted my money from my  bank account and before the site could redirect me back to IRCTC from the payment gateway, it timed out.

What do you do in this scenario?

  1. Login back to IRCTC
  2. Go to “Booked History” by clicking on the link from your dashboard.
  3. If it is showing your ticket there, then great! It has been booked and you can now take a print out!
  4. If your ticket is not shown there, you should quickly book the ticket again as tickets run out quickly on popular routes.
  5. The money already debited from your account will turn up automatically in your account within the next 48 – 72 hours – so don’t worry about it.
  6. If your money hasn’t come back in 3 days – you should contact IRCTC with the exact transaction ID and they should hopefully be able to resolve your issue – though this has never happened to me.

 



This same holds true for instances in which you book a ticket but select an option such as “Confirm ticket only if all seats are present in same berth” or “Book tickets only if I get my choice of seating”.

In such cases, your account is debited – the site will inform you that the booking could not be made – and your money will come back to you after a couple of days. So if you don’t have a lot of cash in your bank account, this might not be the best option to use as you may be left with very little cash for a few days while they refund your account.

At one time, 4 of my tickets could not be booked as I needed a particular seating for my grandparents and close to Rs. 8,000 was stuck with IRCTC.

IRCTC contact details are as follows: (as of 25th May 2012 – this may not be the latest)

Customer Care No. 011 39340000

Fax no.011-23345400

Chennai Customer Care No. 044-25300000

For Railway tickets booked through IRCTC

General Information

I-tickets/e-tickets: care@irctc.co.in

For Cancellation E-tickets: etickets@irctc.co.in

For Shubhyatra users: shubhyatra@irctc.co.in

For Mumbai Suburban Season tickets: seasontickets@irctc.co.in

Hope this post helps someone who has just had a bad transaction and is apprehensive of whether they will ever see their money again 🙂

How is the IPL experience at the new Subrata Roy Stadium in Pune?

Recently, I had the privilege of attending the match between Pune Warriors and the Chennai Super Kings at the newly built Subrata Roy Stadium here in Pune.
Thought about sharing my experiences here.
So, a couple of friends and me decided to go for this match – which  took place on the 14th of April, 8:00 pm.
We booked the tickets on BookMyShow and the only ones available by the time we booked it on around the 6th / 8th of April was the Rs. 1,500 ones.
So we got those.
On the day of the match, we drove 30 kms outside Pune to reach the stadium.
Yes, I live near the airport and the stadium is a good 30 kms from it!

View Larger Map
I left home at 4:45 pm because a friend had advised me to leave earlier – and was parked at the parking only by 6:40.
It takes almost an hour to cover the final 2 kms as cars are backed up so long.
Once you are parked on some ground adjacent to the highway, you need to trek a good 2 – 2.5 kms (atleast) to reach the stadium.
Once we got there, we realised that we were in the North Stand and the Stadium gate opens at the South Stand. So we had to literally traverse all around to get to the North Stand.
This walking and getting to our seats took another hour and we were seated only at 7:40 pm – just in time for the toss.
However, the atmosphere at the stadium was electric and that is the only solace (apart from Pune winning) that day.
To cut a long story short, this was my first experience and I will probably not go back again – unless I have VIP seats and parking (which is inside the stadium – at a distance of 10m from the entrance!).
The following are problems, (I feel) that will eventually kill the live match watching experience in Pune atleast – unless something is drastically done about it by next year.

  1. The stadium is frikin’ out of the town – with no public transportation there.
    You literally have to drive on a highway to get there and it takes a good 2 hours to get there. I know you cannot get the stadium inside town, but you could atleast have special buses or something run which ferry people back and forth from the stadium on match days!
  2. The parking is shit! Literally.
  3. By the time you walk from the parking to the stadium, you are exhausted. Forget about having the energy to cheer your team.
  4. Food inside the stadium is daylight robbery.
    They will not allow you to take any beverage, water etc. A 200 ml glass of Pepsi which the chap was filling from a warm 2 ltr bottle and serving (not even fountain pepsi) was for 50 bucks. A Rs. 65 dominoes pan pizza – which again tasted like crap was being sold for Rs. 150. Go figure!
  5. The music, cheerleading, announcements actually stopped at 10 pm!
    We were like – WTF? So for the entire Pune batting innings, there were no cheer leaders and no music.
  6. The crowd gets excited only when the camera is on them.
    When you are watching this on TV, you feel that the entire crowd is energized throughout the game – but in reality, most of the crowd is dead for 95% of the match.
  7. There will inadvertently be a*holes who will spoil the entire experience for you.
    There was a middle aged, man sitting behind us (with his family in tow) passing lewd comments and yelling in our ears. Really screwed up the experience for us.
  8. To get drinking water, you have to trek all the way outside your stand. Water is not allowed inside the stand so that they can sell you more pepsi (which is allowed inside). Go figure!
  9. Once the match gets over, and people start streaming out, there is not an inch of space to walk. I was actually expecting a stampeded to break out anytime. If things are not fixed, I am sure it will.
  10. The walk back to the car is a good 40 mins at 12 pm at night – which sucks!
  11. It takes another hour for you to get your car out of the parking to the main road – which sucks again – considering its already 1 am.
    I reached my place only by 2 am at night for a match which got over by 11 pm INSIDE my own city!

However, if you are a die-hard cricket / Pune / IPL fan, you will probably enjoy yourself.
There are a couple of pros too:

  1. The stadium is fantastic!
  2. The atmosphere until 10 pm is electric – no amount of 50″ HD television can match and the view is breath taking.

However, all said and done, I will be catching the rest of the Pune matches from the comfort of my home with God given, high definition – where water is free and I can feed pepsi to an entire party of people for 50 bucks! And also go to bed by 11:15 for a match which ends at 11!
The video below captures the atmosphere – minutes before the start of the game. It was electric!

And everything is right with the world …

So where were you when India won the world cup?
This is one of those defining moments in history that all of us — who were present and witnessed it — will probably remember for the rest of our lives (unless India makes a habit of winning world cups)
Looking back at the last couple of matches, it was very poetic – wasn’t it?
Beating Australia in the quarters.
Beating Pakistan later in the semis – in one helluva match and then later winning the finals against Sri Lanka — played in excellent spirit.
With both Afridi and Sangakara being extremely graceful in defeat.
With Dhoni being the one to score the winning runs. With him ending the match with an awesome six. With Yuvraj being there for company while he hit the runs. With both of them winning man of the match and man of the tournament awards.
With the team winning the world cup for Tendulkar!
In a way, it was just meant to be I guess.
And I have developed great respect for both Afridi (never thought I’d be saying this) and Sangakara for being extremely gracious in defeat and especially for Dhoni for being probably the best captain India has had in a long, long time.
Overall, its been a brilliant tournament and I was glad to be present here to witness it.
All the effort into setting up the giant screen on the terrace and getting a projector paying off…
We have finally won the world cup .. and everything is right with the world!

Kolkata Trip–Day 2

As every great day begins, mine too started with a visit to the neighbourhood market to buy the freshest vegetables at 7:30 in the morning with my uncle (mama). 7:30 was pretty late by Kolkata standards as people come by around 5:30ish to get a shot at the choicest and freshest vegetables.

However, by the time we reached, the fare was still pretty decent and we picked up whatever we wanted to. The especially funner part of this was the scooter ride through the neighbourhood area. The area that we rode the scooter through had the tiniest of roads (one lane, sometimes 1/2 a lane) – some parts were even dicey for small cars to go through without some skill – but the place had its own charm. Tall palm trees next to palatial three storey bungalows with the narrowest of lanes for company. The smell of fried fish wafted in  the air and it was not even 8 in the morning. It was truly extraordinary.

After a scrumptious breakfast of freshly prepared puri bhaji, we took off in the hired Innova to Dakshineshwar. Dakshineshwar is this pretty large temple complex for Goddess Kali. We reached there through traffic and some maniacal driving in less than an hour. After wading through the crowds and giving a handful of people business – including the flower vendors and the shoe keepers, we went and obediently stood in  one of the many lines inside – like any good, self respecting Indian would.

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Our awesome ride!

Cameras and cell phones were prohibited in the temple premises and big signs all over the place screamed at you – threatening you from taking any pictures. Fearing for the life of my precious camera, I kept it hidden in my backpack and as a result, was not able to take any pictures. However, knowing that you will be disappointed with this, I am putting below a stock image that I found on Google Images.

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Dakshineshwar temple and the long queues to get in (source: google image search)

Our lines were twice as long as depicted here though.

After waiting for what seemed an eon – we moved up the line to the temple and got our magnificent glimpse of the Goddess for exactly 2.3 seconds. During this, I saw the pandit pocket atleast 60 bucks from the three people in front of us. Our turn came, Pritika handed over her flowers and when the pandit put out his hand and said “dakshina dao” (give me money for donation), Pritika went “huh?” and that was the end of our temple visit. (This was the first time for us when the pandit was proactively asking for donations.)

We then loitered around a bit having spent so much time getting there in the first place and after giving some more business to the people selling idols, plastic stuff, etc., we took a twenty minute, very unsafe boat ride across the Hooghly river to a place called Belur Math.

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Our boat ride from Dakshineshwar to Belur Math

Again at Belur Math, photography was banned. It’s a pity because it was an awesome, well maintained place. Belur Math is actually a institute as well as a temple to Sri Sri Ramakrishna who was the teacher of Swami Vivekanand.

As there were many signs prohibiting photography inside the campus and due to my gifted ability to be able to read, I kept my expensive camera inside my bag for fear of some over enthusiastic security guy breaking it. Quite a few people were clicking photographs though and  a group were insulted by a watchmen who ran towards them shouting “Are you freaking illiterate? Can’t you read the signs? This is not a feakin’ garden. It is a temple!!!”

I then realised that photography was banned at such places not for anything else, but for the principle of it. Anyways, all I have to remember the place is the following:

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which I happened to click “before” entering the premises. And boy I am glad that I did!

For those of you lazy enough to *not* click on the Wikipedia links I so painstakingly have put up (I know who you are!), here is an actual site photograph taken by a brave soul who then put it up on Wikipedia!

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Belur Math – main building (source: wikipedia)

After paying our respect to the statue inside the building and loitering on the well kept lawns for a good half hour, we were chased out of the premises at exactly 12 o’ clock by a person ringing a very loud bell.

Our car screeched to a halt near the gate and the doors swung open. We jumped into it and made a quick escape only to get stuck behind a  line of ochre’ colour Kolkata taxis. However, lucky for us the person with the bell had given up and had turned his attention to other cell phone photographers.

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A sea of yellow taxis surround us just next to Howrah bridge

We then made our way to College street which is the street on which the Presidency College is (and hence the name I guess). College street is also famous because you get nothing but books on either sides of the road. Something like ABC in Pune. My dad got a bargain deal when he managed to pick up a Rs. 95 book in Rs. 10 (though I must mention the book seemed old and very probably second hand).

Another thing that this lane is very famous for is the Indian Coffee House – which is a quaint little place in an old building and has great food (YMMW) along with a good cuppa. It is famous because you will find all the highly intellectual types (read: people like us) hanging around here discussing all conceivable topics under the sun – from Mamta Banerjee’s politics to how channels like UTV Bindaas are spoiling today’s youth by airing shows like Emotional Atyachaar.

We had quite a bit of food from vegetable cutlets to bread butter to hakka noodles to veg pakodas. As you can imagine, it was quite a fare and was mighty reasonable as well. This was topped up with a nice cup of filter coffee – something that this place is famous for. We soaked in the ambiance, the coffee and tried to fit in to the intellectual crowd but found that it was just too much effort. So we skipped out of the place within 45 minutes and went out to soak the sun.

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The crowd and ambiance at Indian Coffee House

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Us, trying to fit in with the other intellectuals at the Café

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View from the top. The place has seating on top as well.

Our car came back soon and we made our way to City Center I and then later City Center II. There is nothing much to write about them except that these were malls and that City Center II was much better than I (one) and that both the malls were so much better than the pseudo malls that we have back in Pune. Though a little confusing in design, they had quite a bit of space and hand plenty of place for people to just sit and hang out.

Rest of the day was uneventful except that we were stuck in an hour long traffic jam and our driver tried playing tag with the oncoming vehicles on the road and fortunately. lost.